RLA 2024 Takeaways: Reverse Logistics Trends & Opportunities

By: Chris Bleess, Director, Business Development at Triage Partners

February 17, 2024

Earlier this month, Triage Partners attended the 2024 RLA Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, where we were thrilled to see so many new, innovative technologies being introduced to keep pace with the industry’s rapidly evolving needs. This year’s event saw a record-breaking attendance, and it was exciting to see the energy and enthusiasm on the show floor, in the sessions, and at the RLA Startup Pitch Competition.

This event always serves as an industry benchmark, showcasing trends, technology innovations, and evolving needs throughout the circular economy. This year, one of the key observations was that return volume continues to grow at a rapid rate reaching a whopping $743B in retail returns in 2023. With that growth, there is increasing recognition of reverse logistics’ critical role in the circular economy, and there are some challenges that the industry as a whole needs to address.

Here are some of our top takeaways:

  • Awareness of the need to reduce e-waste throughout the circular economy is growing.
    According to Ernst & Young, only 17.4% of electronic waste is recycled globally, resulting in a loss of at least $57B annually. To address this issue, we need to develop and adopt circular economy models that support sustainability and educate consumers on e-waste recycling. This represents a huge opportunity for both economic and environmental progress across the industry. It’s exciting to see companies like B-Stock and DHL working with top OEMs to give products a second life.
  • It’s time to take reverse logistics training seriously.
    During his keynote address, Rich Bulger presented a “call to action” for the industry to expand reverse logistics education in university learning paths at both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. This should be an urgent priority as we seek to address this often overlooked component of the circular economy.
  • Returns fraud has skyrocketed.
    According to the National Retail Federation (NFR) there was an estimated $743B in retail returns in 2023. Over $101B of those total returns, 13.7%, were fraudulent. 360ID Tag is one company taking action in the clothing industry. Their serialized, visible-on-purpose return tag is designed to prevent e-commerce return fraud like wardrobbing and product switches.
  • Workflow issues abound.
    Workflow issues are a universal problem across the industry. Nearly everyone has challenges managing process and data collection efficiently and at scale. To address this problem, companies need solutions that can easily adapt to support growth, efficiency, and speed.

It’s clear that the industry has some gaps that need to be addressed as we move forward. But with challenges, we’re also seeing many inspiring innovations.  The show floor and RLA Startup Pitch competition both highlighted how the industry comes together to overcome challenges and solve problems.

At the Startup Pitch competition, each contestant got 5 minutes to pitch their solution, with one winner chosen for an Audience’s Award and one for a Judge’s Award. Highlights included:

  • Cool Amps Energy Solutions: A new and inventive way to recycle lithium-ion batteries on-site
  • Software companies helping to expedite and relist items for resale
  • 360ID Tag: A solution to address fraudulent wardrobing and product switches.

The true magic of any conference is the opportunity for networking with other leaders in the field. Between sessions, on the show floor, and over drinks and hor d’oeuvres in the evening, informal conversations between professionals across the U.S. served to spark ideas and inspire collaboration as we connected over the opportunities and challenges of reverse logistics. Looking forward to seeing the industry progress as we work together to implement solutions!

About the Author:
Chris Bleess is Director of Business Development with Triage Partners. With over 20 years of experience in the wireless, telecommunications and consumer electronics industry, he has a deep understanding of the market dynamics, customer needs, and industry standards that shape the service lifecycle management sector.